From RaBIT Newbie to Voting Reform Enthusiast

One of the things we want to do with RaBIT’s new blog is to provide regular Torontonians with an opportunity to have their voice heard. This post, written by new RaBIT supporter Lynda Chubak, is the first in what will be a recurring series of such posts.

On February 28, I attended my first RaBIT event, the Ranked Ballots Roadshow. Though I had been loosely following this grassroots initiative for a few years, growing concerns over the slow pace of improvements to the city and a lack of diversity on City Council finally pushed me out the door to learn more.  

I came to hear first-hand how our municipal democracy could be made better. Better for me means at least two things. First, I want change that creates a real possibility that more women and, generally, more people who better reflect Toronto’s diversity will be elected. Second, it should no longer be almost a given that an incumbent candidate will win elections in their ward. New voices should have a fighting chance.

First impressions: electoral activism can include a few laughs!

The evening was way more fun than I’d expected a voting reform event could be. Dave Meslin, the founder of RaBIT and now working with Unlock Democracy, opened by literally pitching cookies into the crowd from the snacks table. His schtick got some laughs and set a great tone for the evening. It also drove home the point that big changes happen at the local level, one cookie and conversation at a time.

What was not so funny was being reminded that in the last municipal election, under our current voting system which is called first-past-the-post, a candidate won a seat on City Council with just 17% of the vote. In other words, more than eight out of ten neighbours wanted someone else to represent their ward and their interests at City Hall. And yet, just two of ten neighbours got their way. In fact, across Toronto’s 44 wards, one out of every three wards was won by a candidate having less than 50% of the support from their community. That’s a crazy system.

Good thing we can choose a better way. With humor and even a quilt as a prop, Meslin walked us through how ranked ballot voting can provide a straightforward solution. Next, we heard from Jeanne Massey (Executive Director of FairVote Minnesota), and Cynthia Richie Terrell (co-founder of FairVoteUSA and Director of Representation2020), who shared success stories about other jurisdictions that have made the transition to ranked ballots. Check out some of their voter video testimonials.

Some people — for example, Councillors who fear they may lose their seat — say ranked ballot voting is difficult to understand. It’s not. If you can rank three flavours of ice-cream in order of preference — for example, decide chocolate is your favourite, strawberry is your second choice, and vanilla is your last choice — then you understand how a ranked ballot system works. Simply pick your top three candidates and indicate which is your first, second and third choice. Easy. That’s one of the reasons the Academy Awards also uses ranked ballots for choosing the Best Picture. It ensures that the top prize is awarded to the movie that is actually preferred by the most people.

Let’s get some new, younger voices into the mix

Evening emcee Fearless Fred, 102.1 The Edge host and frequent RaBIT champion, remarked that the audience tipped toward the grey-er end of the spectrum. Agreed. Work needs to be done to engage more young people in this cause. They’re the ones who will benefit from and/or pay for the consequences of the decisions, or lack thereof, coming out of City Hall, today and for years down the road.

Action required now for Toronto’s 2022 municipal election

Ranked ballot voting happens all over the world. Unfortunately, it’s too late for this year’s upcoming city election. That’s why each of us needs to take action now, so that ranked ballots can be in place for the 2022 election. Tell your friends. Tell your neighbours. Before the municipal election in October, get your current councillor and all the other candidates vying for your vote to commit to switching to ranked ballots for the 2022 election. As someone at the Roadshow quipped, “there’s no one like a candidate to be interested in this issue”.  

Together, let’s make the October municipal election here in Toronto the last election in which a councillor could win a seat without majority support.

Lynda Chubak

Proud Torontonian and RaBIT Convert

Twitter: @lyndachubak